The Appalachian Trail is one of the big draws for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Conceived in the 20s, this brain child of Benton MacKaye had the first section established in 1923 and now it is one of the three big trails in the United States. Starting in Georgia and ending in Maine, this 2,200 mile trek is one of the accomplishments that makes a Thru-Hiker drool. The first part of the Appalachia Trail starts in Northern Georgia inside the Smokies and the most hiked portion of the Appalachian Trail is the 1.7 miles that starts at the Newfound Gap Trailhead.
The Appalachian Trail, or AT as it had come to be known, was thought of by Benton MacKaye and fellow hiking enthusiasts in New England. They had been kicking around the idea of a national trail, an eastern trail that would cover the beauty of the Appalachian mountains for years. Trail blazing started in the north, with trees and trails being emblazoned with the familiar diamond shaped logo that still marks trails to this day. As the years progressed people got more and more into the idea of a trail that covered most of the Appalachians. Eventually this movement culminated in the idea that the trail would stretch from Georgia to Maine. The AT grew in both fame and length as the years went on until it reached its current length of 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine.
Since the establishment of the AT, not only has the trail received national attention but it has received national funding too. A national Appalachian Trail Conference was established in the 30s, which later became the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. This organization helps to track the number of people that are hiking the AT each year and also spends time making sure that the trail stays maintained and usable by guests. Maintaining over 2,000 miles of trails is a huge undertaking but one that the AT Conservancy delights in. Along with this, they provide tools and resources for Thru-Hikers, those people that take the time to hike from Georgia to Maine, a trip that might take 5-7 months depending on how many miles you are hiking a day.
Thru-Hikers make up a huge number of the people that hike the AT each year. These Thru-Hikers depend on the people that visit the area and the locals alike to keep them going as they cover the miles. The people that hike the trails, especially the Thru-Hikers find themselves at the mercy of the elements and the conditions on the trails. The brief respite that they get are jaunts into town in the back of a pickup to pick up supplies and get a break from the rigors of the trail. They are hiking history on the AT. They are covering the ground that was hiked by the frontiersmen, pioneers and the Native American people that inherited the land before white settlers arrived. As Thru-Hikers make their way from Georgia toe Maine, or from Maine to Georgia, they pass through some of the most beautiful land that the country has to offer – the Smokies, the Blue Ridge the Shenandoah Valley and of course through the gorgeous landscape that is all of New England.